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Thaw leads to slew of burst pipes in Watertown, Jefferson County

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Several area businesses spent much of the weekend cleaning up from a rash of pipes bursting, caused by Friday’s temperatures that dipped down to minus 15 degrees.

The problems with pipes began on Friday morning and continued through Saturday afternoon. Such businesses and properties in Watertown affected by the troubles include: the Ponderosa Steakhouse, the Comfort Inn and Suites, Best Western Carriage House Inn, Denny’s restaurant and Creek Wood Apartments.

Residents of four units at Creek Wood Apartments had to be evacuated when sprinkler pipes burst, causing water to go in between walls and drip from ceiling fixtures, said Battalion Chief Timothy P. “Tucker” Wiley of the Watertown City Fire Department.

Firefighters first responded to the problem happening in one building at 11:47 a.m. Friday and then during a separate incident in another building several hours later, he said. The residents ended up staying with friends, he said.

On Friday morning, firefighters were called to Denny’s on Arsenal Street; it remained closed on Saturday evening with a large sign on its doors notifying customers that “pipes burst, sorry.” There was no indication on Saturday night when the restaurant would reopen.

Battalion Chief Wiley said the fire department has been called out so often during the last couple of days that firefighters have not had a chance to get them all listed in the fire calls book.

“We went all over,” he said.

At the Comfort Inn, more than 15 blue industrial fans were still being used on Saturday to help clean up the mess. The hotel, however, never closed, said front desk manager Angela L. Broyles.

“We had a little bit of water all over the first floor,” she said. “But it’s all under control.”

The Best Western was struck by a double whammy, Battalion Chief Wiley said. A municipal pipe burst under the building and a sprinkler head malfunctioned in another part of the hotel, causing large puddles. A few third-floor rooms sustained some damage, an employee said.

Since Thursday, Jefferson County fire departments and residents have struggled to keep up with burst or frozen pipes.

“When we get into the zero and subzero temperatures, pipes freeze,” said Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer. “What ends up happening is the water expands in the pipe and it breaks. It gets a little warmer and the ice starts to melt.”

Temperatures jumped from minus 10 degrees and below Friday evening to almost 30 degrees mid-Saturday.

Firefighters who responded to a house fire Saturday morning in LaFargeville said prior to the incident, homeowners had been attempting to thaw a frozen pipe. Earlier in the day, a burst water main outside 935 Sherman St. flooded part of the road and took several hours to clean up.

On Friday morning, the Northern Credit Union and two adjoining businesses were forced to close when a sprinkler pipe broke, causing six of inches to end up on the floor. According to a press release, the branch was going to remain closed until the cleanup was completed.

Shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday, Brook T. Hibbard, the maintenance man at the Medical Arts Building, 171 Clinton St., found a few offices in Dr. Moid Khan’s suites with about 2 inches of water. He surmised it came from a burst pipe in a second-floor office.

Firefighters arrived and turned off the electrical power to the offices. The business’s receptionist, who declined to give her name, said on Saturday she did not know whether the mess would be cleaned up in time to reopen on Monday.

“We’ll get it taken care of somehow,” Mr. Hibbard said.

One of the safest ways pipes can be thawed is to allow hot water to run through the plumbing.

“Everything doesn’t work as well in cold weather. Not just the pipes, but even firefighting efforts,” said Mr. Plummer, adding that water pumps could freeze and break if firefighters didn’t ensure they were empty.

Torches should not be used to thaw a pipe, however hair dryers or electric lamps may be used as long as they are supervised.

Homeowners should also be prepared to use their water shut-off valve in the event of a burst.

Additional safe thawing suggestions from the Red Cross can be found at http://wdt.me/d2suQs.

Johnson Newspapers reporter Amanda Taylor contributed to this story.

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